Nienaber named BSE Hall of Fame 2022 inductee

Calendar Icon Nov 17, 2022      Person Bust Icon By Emily Case

John "Jack" Nienaber is the BSE Hall of Fame inductee for 2022.
John "Jack" Nienaber is the BSE Hall of Fame inductee for 2022.

John “Jack” Nienaber was inducted into the Biological Systems Engineering Hall of Fame on Nov. 17, 2022. His widely impactful career spanned topics including irrigation, waste management, livestock environment and animal energetics.

The BSE Hall of Fame was established in 1995 to recognize alumni who have significantly impacted their respective areas of expertise and the communities they serve. Nienaber joins over 40 distinguished individuals, including Lester Larsen, William Splinter, Paul Fischbach, Glenn Hoffman and Carol Swarts.

This distinction came as a surprise to Nienaber, who credits mentors like Fischbach and his undergraduate advisor James DeShazer for their influence over his career.

Nienaber worked for the United States Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service from 1971 until his retirement in 2009. He steadily gained more leadership experience through the years — becoming the research leader of his unit in 1996, then serving as the Acting Center Director of Meat Animal Research Center, USDA-ARS in 2008.

In 1973, Nienaber led the design of five feedlot runoff control system alternatives at an Environmental Protection Agency demonstration facility which was in a high pollution potential area. In 1976, he was selected to initiate a renewed livestock environment program at the USDA-ARS Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center. He subsequently developed controlled- environment chambers for swine, cattle and sheep, and supporting indirect-calorimetry facilities.

In 1992, Nienaber was named project leader of a new initiative on beef cattle waste management practices and its crop utilization and runoff control at MARC. In 1996, he was named Research Leader of his Unit; in 2008, he became Acting Director of USDA-ARS MARC.

“All this rolled together into an awesome career, which I had very little to do with,” he said. “I look at some of these great achievements; they’re not my achievements, they’re the teams’ achievements and heavily dependent on all the people I worked with.”

Career highlights

Nienaber considers one of his career highlights to be the Clay Center environmental lab. This included five temperature and humidity-controlled chambers and three indirect calorimeters. It was later expanded to include four headbox calorimeters to be used within the rooms or remotely in the nutrition barn.

The tool helped him connect with Nutritionists at Clay Center as well as universities in Nebraska, Missouri and Kentucky. Findings from those studies resulted in invitations to international conferences to discuss the energetic responses.

“It was a great experience to be involved with in these conferences and mind-boggling to sit across the table from international scientists whose work I had admired,” he said.

In addition to the calorimetery system, Nienaber said he was also proud to work with Tami Brown-Brandl and Roger Eigenberg to develop a predictive model of heat stress of beef cattle in feedlots based on over 20 years’ worth of data from the lab and early work by LeRoy Hahn. Bryon Woodbury and Eigenberg likewise developed dynamic tools to track and direct the application of livestock waste from the feedlot to cropland.

DeShazer, who nominated Nienaber for the Hall of Fame distinction, said Nienaber’s contributions have advanced the areas of research he’s worked in.

“Dr. Nienaber’s indirect-calorimetry systems, in combination with the environmental chambers and with the subsequent upgrades to include dynamic measures, has provided a unique capability for collecting data on the metabolic response of animals to thermal factors,” DeShazer said.

“Research he has conducted in these facilities has provided data which led to revision of the ASABE ventilation standard used worldwide.”

According to DeShazer, Nienaber’s ability to engage stakeholders with challenges within the livestock industry is what sets him apart.

“Jack has the ability to work well with others and to draw the best effort out of those with whom he works,” DeShazer said. “He is able to combine management skills, people skills, and technical expertise into teams that develop the technologies and the information for the future improvements of livestock environmental and waste management.”

This influence expands beyond the teams he led. More than 50 engineers and biologists have collaborated with Nienaber on the impact of thermal environment on animals and their energetic responses.

He has also worked closely with other scientists from a variety of disciplines in both of his research programs in waste management and livestock environment. Results from his research programs have been published widely, including in 112 referred scientific articles, 84 technical reports and 76 symposium papers.

Looking back, Nienaber said he hopes to leave a lasting memory of the impact science can have on production agriculture.

“Legacy-wise, I think it’s providing the tools for producers to make logical decisions on what they’re doing, whether it’s waste management and agronomic decisions, or animal production.”

He credits faith in God and his wife, Joan and their children, Michelle, Jeff, Jill and Matt for their love and support.

“That’s the bedrock for everything I’ve done.” he said. “That’s what gives you the structure to keep going, and the incentive to continue when you want to give up.”